By Diane Stokes, AFSCME Local 2858 (personal capacity)
The Bush Administration’s Department of Labor opened an assault on the 40-hour workweek and overtime pay protection last March by proposing changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). If passed, a union study projects that the new rules would affect more than 80 million workers protected by FLSA. Under current regulations, about 79% of all workers are guaranteed the right to overtime pay, or time-and-a-half for every hour worked above 40 hours per week.
Bush’s proposal would exclude some FLSA-protected workers by reclassifying them as contractors, managers, administrators or professional employees. Certain middle-income workers would no longer qualify for overtime if their income exceeds a set limit. Overtime protection would be eliminated for large numbers of workers in aerospace, healthcare, defense, high-tech, and other industries.
The Bush Administration’s overtime proposal is now in Congress, along with five other anti-worker bills which would limit or restructure who qualifies for comp. time (forced time off to save employers the cost of paying employees extra for overtime). H.R. 1119 would replace time-and-a-half with comp. time.
Senate bill S. 317 would allow employers to pay overtime only after an employee works 80 hours over a two-week period. If enacted, these bills would give employers ultimate control over when, and if, an employee is allowed to use earned comp. time and will result in lower incomes, longer hours, and less control over the workweek.
Workers’ eight-hour days and weekends have been systematically attacked ever since they were won through the militant Eight Hour Day movement. Employers are using all sorts of tactics to erode the eight-hour day: 24-hour production shifts, four tens, casual and compulsory overtime, and compulsory part-time work.
Unfortunately, the AFL-CIO union leadership campaign against these attacks is top-down and relies mainly on getting Democrats elected in 2004. Unions and their allies need to rebuild an Eight Hour Day movement that would break with the Democrats, who are controlled by corporations.
Educational meetings, local and national demonstrations, and, if necessary, coordinated strikes could be part of a campaign used to build a powerful working class movement. An Eight Hour Day movement could also run independent labor candidates on a program that challenges corporate domination of the economy and the undemocratic two-party system.